Sunday (March 1) night's episode of "The Amazing Race," which I watched at 1:30 a.m. after returning home from three days of WonderCon coverage in San Francisco, was one of the decorated show's very finest hours.

Maybe it's just that I'm on the verge of collapse myself, but the narrative arc that followed Tammy and Victor from the episode's beginning to its end was pretty shattering, the rare opportunity to watch a real person go from cocky and confident to utterly broken in 44 televised minutes. It's part schadenfreude, I suppose, but watching a generally likable team go through hell for an hour wasn't pleasurable, but it was just devastating.

[More thoughts on the episode after the break... With spoilers, of course.]

Tammy and Victor began Sunday night's leg with a lead of nearly two hours. Yeah, I understand why some people haven't been fans of the siblings, specifically Victor's dominance in the brother-sister dynamic and Tammy's seemingly complacent willingness to stick to the status quo, but given the team's early success, who'd have guessed that they had they were on their way to one of the worst legs in "Amazing Race" history?

The hour dedicated nearly 15 minutes to the process of exiting Austria and flying to Bucharest, which doesn't look like it ought to be so complicated if you just look at a map, but which raises a slew of logistical challenges if you start out-thinking the rook, start trying to get fancy with simple decisions.

Tammy and Victor seemed to have a massive advantage when, thanks to their early lead, they got on a flight that was supposed to leave nearly 90 minutes before the night flight that might even be conceivably accessible to the other teams. Instead, their flight got up in the air, experienced a technical malfunction and had to circle back. By the time their flight returned, it was too late for them to get back to the second flight, forcing them to join the pack on a flight that left five hours later, a potentially massive margin.

Here's where Brad and Victoria tried outthinking the game. While everybody else was looking at a 9-ish flight that would get into Bucharest at 12:25, they booked a flight with a connection through Amsterdam which would get them in at 12:00. Even a 25 minute advantage can be a big help in the game, but is that an difference that you'd want to count on at the start of a leg before encountering a single challenge? Brad and Victoria decided yes. When they missed their connection out of Amsterdam, they couldn't get on a flight until the next morning and that was just it. 

From the second they missed that connection, maybe 20 minutes into the episode, it was all over. There was a little editing to make things look close, but I think we can safely assume that Brad and Victoria were last be many, many hours. At that point, viewers know the episode is over and everybody else is safe. It's almost impossible to find a way to keep that sort of episode exciting. 

Thanks, Tammy and Victor!

So the teams got into Bucharest and encountered the first of the episode's two excellent tasks, a Roadblock celebrating Romania's storied gymnastics history. Like the luchadore task last season, it was a Roadblock that required contestants to learn some funny-sounding maneuvers on the balance beam, parallel bars and floor -- Backwards Ice-Cream Scoop Walk, Cha Cha, Penguin Walk, Straddle Travel were just a few -- and like that task, some people had advantages. Did anybody doubt that the compact Amanda would be both the swiftest competitor and the one most likely to look good in the gymnastics leotard? Is anybody surprised that after a couple struggles, stuntman Mark, cheerleader Jaime and college athlete Kisha zipped through? Probably not. But who would have guessed that Mike White would be such a game gymnast? 

Or that Tammy couldn't do a cartwheel? Woe was Tammy and Victor. Having the first flight turn around was just bad luck, as was missing that second flight. Their difficulties finding the gymnastics center, though, were the start of mistakes they brought upon themselves. Then Tammy tensed up during the gymnastics and Victor didn't help matters by yelling instructs at her every step of the way. Tammy was already crying by the time they reached the train station to head to Transylvania. 

The train was the episode's big equalizer. No matter how bad things had been for Tammy and Victor to that point, all of the teams were together, except for Brad and Victoria, who probably could have just headed off to Anne Frank House, seen Rembrandt's The Night Watch and done a tour of the Heineken Brewery, rather than wasting their time continuing.

The Detour offered the choice between Gypsy Moves and Vampire Remains, two killer tasks accentuating stereotypical aspects of Romanian culture. Gypsy Moves had the teams loading up a horse-drawn carriage with a gypsy family's belongings and relocating their stuff, while gypsies played music and mocked them. It was basically an Emir Kusturica movie brought to live. Vampire Remains was entirely contrived and required dragging a coffin down a hill and stabbing blood-filled frames.

While my instinct would have been to agree with whichever cheerleader said to do Vampire Remains because you can't deal with the X-factor of an animal, it looked like that task was easier, especially if you were able to get the gypsies to help with the loading. Amanda and Kris finished first, but they very briefly mislaid their fannypack, allowing Mel and Mike to win the leg, which made me very happy.

Tammy and Victor chose to do Vampire Remains, but when they got to the base of the mountain and had to look for the marked path, Victor spotted a white-and-red marking that we can only assume was a hiking path. Everybody else spotted the "Amazing Race" yellow-and-red arrows and the clear signs to the task. So while the other teams dragged their coffins and finished the task, Tammy and Victor walked up a mountain, with the younger sister periodically chirping that the markings weren't right and the older brother insisting that they couldn't turn back. They walked and walked, each becoming increasingly agitated. 

Victor's best stubborn line? "I'm sorry I'm making you do something you think is wrong, but I really think it's right."

Finally, Victor just knelt down and basically started crying and told Tammy she could make the choice to go back.

"I can help make the decision now that we've walked up the whole mountain?" was Tammy's response.

I'm curious for how long they really walked. The editing, which cut in footage of Brad and Victoria's progress, wanted to make us believe they walked for four or five hours. It's my hunch they couldn't have walked for more than an hour. 

Could they have?

And yes, it was all Victor's fault, except for where Tammy could have put her foot down and demanded they turned around. It was painful to watch.

Their stage wasn't over. After sliding their coffin down the hill, they lost the key to unlock the first of several locks. I don't know how they lost the key, but I'm even more astounded that in the middle of a forested area, they were able to find the key at all, finish the task and make it to Phil, still slightly alive.

"This stressful environment has made it very clear that the older brother/little sister dynamics don't work well in a race," Victor told the camera, still crying. 

Is a 12-hour mandatory rest period going to be enough for Tammy and Victor to get their s*** back together?

I wonder.

OK. That's a longer and more plot-driven recap than I usually do. But it's three in the morning and these things sometime happen. My apologies...

What'd y'all think of the episode? Do you believe Victor can change? If you were Tammy, what would you have done? This season is off to a great start, isn't it?

 

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